The Effect of Massage and Flexibility

The Effect of Massage on Performance of the Sit and Reach Test in Adolescent Soccer Players

1. Morteza Jourkesh, MSc

Department of Physical Education and Sports Science, Islamic Azad University, Shabestar Branch, Iran.

2. Mohammad Rahim Najafzade, Ph.D

Department of Physical Education and Sports Science, Islamic Azad University, Tabriz Branch, Iran.


The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of a single hamstring massage on the performance of the sit and reach test in adolescent soccer players. 10 male adolescent soccer players with a mean age 15.3 ± 0.5 years, height 172 ± 3.5 cm, body mass 67.5 ± 4.3 kg and 5.0 ± 0.7 years of training participated in this study. Before treatment, each of 10 subjects performed the sit and reach test. Performance of the sit and reach test was repeated after treatment. Mean percentage changes in sit and reach score after treatment were calculated for the massage and no massage treatments, and analyzed using student's test. No significant differences were observed for subjects with relatively height and low values before treatment. These findings suggest that a single massage of the hamstring muscle group was not associated with any significant increase in sit and reach performance immediately after treatment in adolescent soccer players.

KEY WORDS : Adolescent soccer players, massage, performance .


Most medical professionals, and athletes consider aerobic conditioning, strength training, and flexibility as integral components in any conditioning program (Bandy etal.,1997; Hartig et al ., 1999). Flexibility has been defined as the ability of a muscle to lengthen and allow one joint (or more than one joint in a series) to move through a range of motion (zachezewski et al., 1989). Loss of flexibility is defined as a decrease in the ability of a muscle to deform (zachezewski et al.,1989) . some of the proposed benefits of enhanced flexibility are reduced risk of injury, (Bandy et al., 1997 ; Hartig et al., 1999) pain relief. (Henricson et al., 1984) and improved athletic performance (Anderson et al., 1991 ; worrell et al., 1994).

Activation and deactivation of muscle consumes energy over and above force production, and therefore the fewer times muscle is turned on and off, the less energy is consumed (Barlow et al., 2004). Equally, greater range of motion effectively means a longer time from over which muscle contraction can take place. When muscles are allowed sufficient time to accelerate and decelerate limb segments, connective tissues are spared and therefore less prone to rupture . Thus enhanced flexibility is associated with improved movement economy and reduced risk of injury (Barlow et al., 2004).

Massage has been a therapeutic modality in most cultures since early civilization and has had a long tradition of use in sport (Callaghan., 1993; Goats.,1994). Frequent claims made in the sport literature for the benefits of massage include improved stretching of tendons and and connective tissue (Samples.,1989) and relief of muscle tension and spasm (Ryan.,1980 ; Atamford.,1985). Massage is also commonly assumed to enhance muscle recovery from intense exercise, principally because it speeds up muscle blood flow (ylinen et al.,1988). However, studies to date on blood flow are contradictory. A previous review (caforelli et al., 1993) pointed out that reports on limb blood flow vary from no effect of massage to as much as a 50% increase. For instance, positive effects have been reported showing that massage promotes acceleration of muscle and venus blood flow increase blood volume, and reduces muscle tightness (Dubrovsky.,1983; Dubrovsky.,1990).In contract, more recent research (shoemaker et al.,1997; Tiidus et al.,1995) showed no effect of massage on blood flow irrespective of the type of massage stroke or the muscle mass being treated.

Massage is also thought to relax, and could therefore help to enhance joint flexibility by reducing the passive tension of antagonistic muscles (Barlow.,2004) . However, experimental results are equivocal. For example, (wiktorsson et al.,1983) found stretching to be the most effective way to increase range of motion in lower limb joints. in contrast, (Crosman et al.,1984) found that a single massage of the hamstring muscle group increased the passive range of motion in hip joints and (Barlow et al.,2004) showed that a single massage of the hamstring muscle group was not associated with any significant increase in performance immediately after treatment in physically active young men.

The aim of the present study was to examine the effect of a single hamstring massage on the performance of the sit and reach test in adolescent soccer players.



Ten adolescent soccer player aged 15.3 ± 0.7 years of training volunteered to act as subjects for the present study. Subjects height was 172 ± 3.5 cm and their body mass was 67.5 ± 4.3 kg. all subjects signed an informed consent document, which was approved by the institutional ethics review committee.


Subjects were randomly assigned to one of two different groups. Each group had two difference test sessions that were separated by one week. The test session consisted either of supine rest or massage of both hamstrings. Therefore all subjects received both the massage treatment as well as supine rest treatment by the time the study was completed. The massage treatment lasted for about 15 minutes and included a specific set of effleurage and petrissage strokes. The person performing the massage treatment was described as a "qualified massage therapist" but no other information abont the practitioner's training or shills was mentioned. Sit and reach scores were evaluated both before and after each treatment session in order to measure any significant change that occurred from the treatment. The scores were evaluated by a separate researcher how did not known which treatment session the subject had attended.


The sit and reach tests were performed according to the manufacturer's (Model 01285 sit and reach flexibility test, LAFAYETTE, USA) guidelines (fig 1).

The subjects were blindfolded (reducing psychological influence), and each of the three attempts (best one chosen, as in guidelines) was separated by a 30 second rest in a tucked limb position (minimizing connective tissue creep).

Statistical analysis

The spss (11.5 for windows) was used for all statistical analyses. Mean percentage changes due to massage or no massage were compared using paired student's test (Mendenhall.,1983).


Figure 1 (A) schematic diagram for the starting position of the sit and reach test. Subjectes sit on the floor with the back and head against a wall, legs fully extended with the bottom of the feet against the sit and reach test box place the hands on top of each other, stretching the arms forward while keeping the head and back against the wall.


(B) schematic diagram for the movement of the sit and reach test. subjects slowly bend and reach forward as far as possible sliding the fingeres along the ruler. A centimeter scale is printed on the top surface of the box. The 15 cm line is approximately flush with the location of the toes below the overhang of the box.


Table 1 shows the sit and reach scores (cm) for all 10 subjects for each of their massage or no massage visits. Mean ± SD percentage changes in sit and reach scores after massage and no massage were small (5.0 ± 3.2% and 3.5 ± 3.7 % respectively) and not significantly different (n=5 ; p=0.552) for subjects with relatively high (15 cm and above ) values before treatment. Mean percentage changes in sit and reach scores after massage or no massage for subjects with relatively low reaches (below 15 cm) before treatment were considerably larger (17.1 ± 7.1% and 14.4 ± 14.1% respectively ). But significantly different (n=5 ; p=0.587).

          Massage          No Massage
       Before  After   Before      After
1      13      12      12      17      1
2      16      18      18      19      1
3      12      13       9       9      2
4      15      16       9      12      2
5      27      29      23      24      1
6      21      22      20      22      1
7       8      10      11      13      2
8      13      16      14      15      1
9      28      28      13      14      2
10     12      16      28      27      2
Table 1 : sit and reach scores (cm) for all subjects for each treatment


The major finding of this study is that massage did not significantly affect sit and reach test. This supports the work of (Barlow et al.,2004) who found no change in sit and reach performance immediately after massage treatment in physically active young men. Since the sit and reach score is a measure of hamstring flexibility, the indirect assumption from this is that a single massage of the hamstring muscle group does not significantly alter hamstring flexibility. However, our findings indicate that percentage changes in sit and reach scores may be inversely proportional to pretreatment values. The percentage changes in sit and reach scores were relatively long reaches to begin with (Barlow et al.,2004). It has been suggested that the contribution of hip flexion to sit and reach performance is about 60%, with the remainder being derived primarily from spinal column flexion (Sinclair A.,1993). If reach was limited by spinal or shoulder flexibility, then hamstring massage would be unlikely to have any effect (Barlow et al.,2004).This could have been important for the subjects with high reach scores who were perhaps not limited by hamstring muscle resistance in the first place.

For all subjects with relatively low reach scores before treatment, massage was associated with an increase in reach, supporting the results of (Barlow et al.,2004 ; crosman et al.,1984).

After the no massage treatment. However, some subjects showed no change, wherease others showed considerable change in their sit reach obility, supporting the results of (Barlow er al.,2004).(Wiktorsson et al.,1983) found that massage alone or in combination with a warm up did not significantly increase any lower extremity ranges of motion, except for the ankle joint.

They found stretching to be the most effective way to improve flexibility in all of the lower extremity joints (wiktorsson et al., 1983). It could be that the subjects with shorter reach who showed an increase in reach after the no massage treatment benefited from a stretching effect of he set of three reaches before treatment (Rubley et al.,2001). Perhaps the supine rest itself relaxed the hamstring muscles sufficiently to allow enhanced reach in the subjects with the low sit and reach scores (Barlow et al.,2004). Larger subject ploos would be required to explore these ideas further.

Despite the indication that a single 15 minute session of massage to the hamstring muscle group does not increase sit and reach scores there are several factors that also need to be considered. Related to the actual massage routine, there is a question about the techniques used. In order to increase conformity among subjects the massage routine was limited to specific effleurage and petrissage strokes. However, in clinincal practice massage to the hamstring muscle group would likely include a number of other techniques and methods. Therefore, while you may be able to determine that 15 minutes of effleurage and peterissage to the hamstring muscle group does not produce a significant change in sit and reach scores, you can't generalize this finding to state that massage (in general) to the hamstring muscle group will not produce a measurable change to the sit and reach scores or to hamstring flexibility (crosman et al.,1984)

There are other factors related to the kinematics chain that must also be considered. In performing the sit and reach maneuver there is a combination of hip flexion, which would be affected by hamstring tightness, as well as trunk flexion, which may not be affected by hamstring tightness. It is possible that an individual may have relative hamstring flexibility and massage to the hamstring muscle group would not change their sit and reach score. However, if the back muscles were also included in the massage treatment, trunk flexion could be increased this would lead to a more significant improvement in the sit and reach score.

Another factor to consider is what occurs in the muscle tissue as a result of the massage treatment. Massage has been demonstrated to reduce the degree of neuromuscular tone in soft tissue following treatment. Reduction of neuromuscular tension is one factor that will increase flexibility. However, it is not the only factor. There is also the connective tissue element of the myofascial tissues, and flexibility in the myofascial tissues may be enhanced more completely with techniques other than effeurage and petrissage (Barlow et al.,2004; crosman et al.,1984).


A single massage of the hamstring muscle group was not associated with any significant increase in sit and reach performance immediately after treatment in adolescent soccer players.


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Mortza Jourkesh


Islamic Azad University, Shabestar Branch, Department of Physical Education and Sports Science, Member of Scientific Board


MSc (physical education and sports science)

Research interests

Exercise and sports performance training and testing

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  • Name: Morteza Jourkesh,MSc
  • Date: 09/13/06 at 02:35
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